Students Find Issue in the Organizational Waste of Event Intended to Give Opportunities
By Rosie Alger
There was a recent charity event on campus called Days for Girls, which raised money and brought awareness to the issues of education for girls around the world, and the impact poor menstrual health can have on a girls’ education in a developing nation. This is an important cause, and I am a huge advocate for the advancement of girl’s education as well as improving women’s health, but I felt the event was administered without thorough thought behind the execution.
Girls without access to menstrual hygiene products are prevented from attending school when they are on their period. In general, there is a huge stigma in talking about menstruation and women’s reproductive health. According to Meghan Markle at Time, “100 and 13 million adolescent girls between the ages of 12-14 in India alone are at risk of dropping out of school because of the stigma surrounding menstrual health.” Days for Girls was intended to start a conversation about this important worldwide issue, and that is something I firmly support.
Many trans and non-binary folks also get periods, and do not receive any kind of guidance or aid when it comes to hygiene. Another approach the project could have taken would have been to post the pads and facts, again, sealed, in women’s, men’s, and unisex bathrooms across campus. That way, students of any gender could learn about the program and read the facts, and also benefit from using the pads if they were in need.
Also, people who might not be out about their gender identity would be able to use the products in whatever bathroom in which they feel most comfortable and safe. Again, allowing people in need, even on our own campus, access to the pads that were used in the decorations for this event would have been a more relevant and poignant contribution to the cause.
Overall, I commend the program and the students behind it for bringing up the topic of menstrual health and how it affects education worldwide, especially in developing nations. I just think there was too much waste in the process of the event, and more thought should have been put in to the nuance of truly helping people who need these products. As Time writer Markle said, “Wasted opportunity is unacceptable with stakes this high.”
Event Organizers Cite Shock Value in Starting Conversation
By Joanna Sperapani
As one of the chief executors of the Days for Girls project, I might be able to lend some clarification to the intent and specificities of this awareness campaign. The project was authored by Kelley Gardner, Rachel Martinez, and I, for the purpose of our Human Rights and Social Justice class with Dr. (Christine) Wade. For the class, each group had to come up with an awareness project to draw attention to a specific human rights violation. Our group chose women’s education, and we decided to focus specifically on a rarely recognized barrier for female education: menstruation. Our goal in this work was to not only raise money and awareness, but to help destigmatize the issue, for the sake of both Washington College students, and for those abroad.
One of the concerns that the three of us have heard, the most frequently is that the pads that were used as decorations were a waste of resources, as menstrual hygiene products are so badly needed worldwide. The premise of this complaint is completely correct; pads and tampons are in high demand for women who live in poverty, those in prison, those who are homeless, or who have a myriad of other issues that prevent their attainment of adequate products. Pads and tampons are also taxed in most states, an issue that has been taken on by several advocacy groups.
For the purpose of our project, however, the use of pads were necessary because we wanted to force a response from the College. So often, different campaigns with amazing intents come and go with little to no support or reaction from the majority of the campus. Our primary goal, as this is an awareness campaign, was to make the issue unavoidable.
Closed and sealed products simply could not have done what the shock value of our campaign did. Think of how often you have seen a pad or tampon in public: practically never, despite the fact that over half the population in the U.S. uses them frequently. The response to our project was indescribable; there were older female professors thanking us for displaying them so boldly, and boys asking us what they were. The ideal was to create such a broad and varied reaction, and expose the reality of what so many deal with regularly.
We do appreciate that our use of pads has been questioned, as it has allowed us to shine a light on another rarely mentioned issue; sustainability. Girls in developing countries are unable to use disposable menstrual products, as we can here in the U.S. Disposal of these products is difficult in these regions, and disposable options are both highly unsustainable and unhygienic. That is the purpose of Days for Girls. They produce kits with usable and washable pads, as well as a sterilization guide and practical items for use.
All pads used in the process, and the tampons and candy that we distributed to students, were donated by the Louis L. Goldstein Program for Public Affairs. The response that the pads created allowed us to earn more than the amount of money we spent on them on the very first day of the five day campaign. We were able to raise almost $400 total, while we spent about $60 on products. This amount of money translates to 40 kits, each of which will last girls in developing countries three to five years. We were also able to donate all of our extra products to a local women’s shelter so that they could benefit from our project as well.
To the point of the cisgender exclusivity of the project, I would agree that the name of the NGO does unfortunately leave out a population who require their help as well. There is a certain over-simplification evident in the title. If one thinks about the closeted non-gender conforming community abroad, however, are they not just as in need of the Days for Girls kits, if not more? I would imagine that not being able to privately deal with the functions a body that does not feel like your own is equally upsetting. They will benefit from this program just as much as cisgender women abroad. As far as those at WC, our group did place pads with facts and information in both men’s and women’s restrooms across campus so that everyone could learn equally.
The main aim of our work was to create a change here at WC, if only in people’s minds. Hopefully, the campaign will help destigmatize this important issue, for the benefit of us all.